Reginald Aubrey Fessenden
Reginald Aubrey Fessenden was born in Quebec, Canada, on October 6, 1866. He achieved fame as an early pioneer in radio technologies and as a prolific American inventor and physicist. He is recognized as the originator of the continuous wave principle in wireless transmission, and as the inventor of the heterodyne system of reception. Among his better known inventions in fields other than radio are the fathometer (or sonic depth finder for ships), the smoke cloud for tanks, the turbo-electric drive for battleships, the wireless compass, and various submarine signaling devices. In his career, he was awarded many honors including the Institute of Radio Engineers medal of honor, the John Scott Medal by the Advisory Committee of the City of Philadelphia for his invention of continuous wave telegraphy and telephony; and the Scientific American Medal for his inventions promoting safety at sea.
Fessenden married Helen May Trott in 1890, and they had one son, Reginald Kennelly Fessenden. After brief stints working as a principal of a school in Bermuda, as a researcher for Edison Machine Works, as chief electrician for a Massachusetts Westinghouse plant, and as a professor of electrical engineering at Purdue University and at Western University of Pennsylvania, Fessenden came to North Carolina in 1900 under the auspices of the United States Weather Bureau to conduct experiments in wireless telegraphy on Roanoke Island in 1899. His two years' work here attracted considerable publicity and corresponded in time with the experiments of the Wright Brothers in that locality. Fessenden left the Weather Bureau and Roanoke Island in August of 1902 around the same time he formed the National Electric Signaling Company with Darwin S. Wolcott, patent attorney, and T. H. Given and Hay Walker, Jr., financial backers-the purpose of the company being to promote Fessenden's inventions. He left the company in 1911; and after years of litigation, lost his legal fight to gain the right to use his patents privately. It was reported that the company later sold these patents to Radio Corporation of America for three million dollars. Fessenden served as consulting engineer for the Submarine Signaling Company and for several prominent electrical companies from 1910 until his death on July 22, 1932.
Because of Reginald A. Fessenden's pioneer radio work on Roanoke Island in 1901 and 1902, Fessenden's son, at the suggestion of the Fessenden National Memorial Association, deposited the inventor's papers in the State Archives of North Carolina in August of 1944 where they now reside and are available to researchers as PC.1140. Most of the photographs displayed in this Gallery are from albums in the Fessenden Papers, PC.1140.13. A detailed description of this collection may be found in the Manuscript and Archives Reference System (MARS) available at http://mars.archives.ncdcr.gov.
More information on Reginald Fessenden and his pioneering work with wireless transmission and radio technologies can be found through the following links:
- The Hammond Museum of Radio
- United States Early Radio History
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